Saturday, June 23, 2007
Thursday, June 21, 2007
In September 2000, a military laboratory in the garrison town of Tezpur in northeastern India announced that it had identified the hottest chili in the world. Chili heat is measured in Scoville Heat Units (shus), from the American chemist Wilbur Scoville who invented the scale in 1912. Pure capsaicin, the main capsaicinoid in a chili, measures 16 million shu. A bell pepper typically measures zero. An Italian peperoncino, used to spice up pasta dishes in southern Italy, measures about 500 shu, while the spiciest Thai chilies come in at around 100,000. Most people are reduced to tears by eating anything above 200,000, and until now the hottest chili ever measured was the Red Savina, a type of habanero grown in California by a commercial chili farmer, which measured 577,000 shu.
According to the tests carried out by India's Defence Research Laboratory, pods from the bhut jolokia, or "ghost chili," a plant grown across northeastern India, had measured 855,000 shu. The chili world met the claim with skepticism, but in 2005 the Chile Pepper Institute in New Mexico finally grew enough bhut jolokia from seeds a member had collected in India to be able to test it. The results were stunning: the bhut jolokia, also called the Naga chili after a traditionally fierce local tribe that enjoys eating them, measured just over 1 million shu, the sort of heat you normally find only in the hottest chili sauces made from pure pepper extract.
On a recent visit to Tezpur, I met with the director of the Defence Research Laboratory, R.B. Srivastava, and the scientist in charge of cultivating the bhut jolokia, R.K.R. Singh. The two men explained that the bhut jolokia was so popular in northeastern India that it was known as "the king of chilies" and celebrated in a festival that coincides with the beginning of the chili season in April. The men discussed the possibility of using the bhut jolokia in antiriot weapons such as tear gas. (I wasn't allowed into the laboratories, Srivastava said, because I was a foreign national and clearance could take weeks.) The bhut jolokia might also make a good food for India's troops, he suggested. We joked about soldiers eating bhut jolokias to get in the right mood before going into battle. "A balanced approach has to be there," Srivastava said, half seriously, "or they will be running to the toilet all the time." The laboratory is contemplating applying for Geographical Indication certification, which would mean only bhut jolokias from northeastern India could be sold as such. "The commercial applications are there," said Srivastava, who mentioned using the chili in medicines and even, by smearing it on string encircling villages, to keep elephants away from crops and humans. "Chilies are packed with vitamins and just so good for you."
After some time, a colleague brought in a small saucer containing three bhut jolokia pods. The pods had been picked a few weeks earlier and were beginning to shrivel. They were about 5 cm long and a burnt orange color. They had an extremely pleasant smoky aroma — half the reason people in the region adore them, said Singh, who is from the nearby state of Manipur and found the bhut jolokia "horrible" as a child but now loves it in small doses. With a cup of milky tea on hand in case of an emergency (milk or yoghurt is a much better way to counter the effects of chilies than water or alcohol), I used my fingernails to tear off a tiny shard of bhut jolokia skin. The men warned me not to try the seeds or the ribs. "Just place it on your tongue, don't swallow," Singh said. The heat took a few seconds to register but quickly spread across my tongue and around my mouth. It was hot, but not unpleasant. I tore off a slightly larger piece of chili and placed it between my front teeth. As I bit down I could feel the chemicals burst out and begin to heat my gums and tongue and down into the top of my throat. I took a swig of tea. Singh smiled and suggested I stop there. "You survived," he said.Courtesy: TIME.com
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Friday, June 08, 2007
The smackdown took place at an ordinary watering hole at Kruger national Park, where a small herd of cape buffalo were drinking and idling, wandering dangerously close to a pack of concealed lions that either did not smell very lion-like or, more probably, were crouching deliberately upwind. On the other side of the hole, six tourists and a guide watched in a parked range vehicle. The lions waited until the buffalo got close enough and then pounced, seizing the baby and scattering the adults. That's usually a game-ender for a baby buffalo, but things got even worse for this one as he struggled backwards, splashed part way into the water, and got his hind legs snagged by a pair of crocodiles. He somehow yanked free of them, but remained in the jaws of the lions until suddenly the adult cape buffalos stormed back in much greater numbers, dispersed the lions and made off with the remarkably unharmed baby.
This is not wildlife video. This is a thriller. This is Tarantinoesque! The video was shot by Dave Budzinski and his friend Jason Schlosberg while on vacation at Kruger.